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Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven

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"A dazzling adaptation of black folklore. Zemach's paintings explode with color, action, humor, and poignancy as they reflect the story of a poor man and his cantankerous mule, Honeybunch."-Publishers Weekly. "There are touches of Ben Shahn, visual echoes of Marc Chagall and WPA murals...Praise be."-Karla Kuskin, The New York Times Book Review "A dazzling adaptation of black folklore. Zemach's paintings explode with color, action, humor, and poignancy as they reflect the story of a poor man and his cantankerous mule, Honeybunch."-Publishers Weekly. "There are touches of Ben Shahn, visual echoes of Marc Chagall and WPA murals...Praise be."-Karla Kuskin, The New York Times Book Review


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"A dazzling adaptation of black folklore. Zemach's paintings explode with color, action, humor, and poignancy as they reflect the story of a poor man and his cantankerous mule, Honeybunch."-Publishers Weekly. "There are touches of Ben Shahn, visual echoes of Marc Chagall and WPA murals...Praise be."-Karla Kuskin, The New York Times Book Review "A dazzling adaptation of black folklore. Zemach's paintings explode with color, action, humor, and poignancy as they reflect the story of a poor man and his cantankerous mule, Honeybunch."-Publishers Weekly. "There are touches of Ben Shahn, visual echoes of Marc Chagall and WPA murals...Praise be."-Karla Kuskin, The New York Times Book Review

34 review for Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven

  1. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    When this picture-book, based on the African-American folk tradition, and featuring a hero (and his mule) who wreak havoc in heaven, was first published back in 1982, it caused quite a stir. Critics of the book decried its racism, objecting particularly to its illustrations, which depict a heaven full of African-American angels enjoying a southern-style barbecue. There were letters written to the publisher, notice was taken in The New York Times, editorials printed in periodicals such as The Cri When this picture-book, based on the African-American folk tradition, and featuring a hero (and his mule) who wreak havoc in heaven, was first published back in 1982, it caused quite a stir. Critics of the book decried its racism, objecting particularly to its illustrations, which depict a heaven full of African-American angels enjoying a southern-style barbecue. There were letters written to the publisher, notice was taken in The New York Times, editorials printed in periodicals such as The Crisis (a publication of the NAACP), and a library boycott was advocated and, in some cases, implemented. Apparently, three major metropolitan library systems - Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco - decided not to stock it at all. The controversy was significant enough that the 1984 University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science final examination included a question about the issue of "humane censorship," specifically mentioning Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven. Ah, the world of children's literature - I have to laugh when friends and acquaintances assume that it is such a "sweet" place! If only they knew... I'd actually never heard of this book, although Margot Zemach - winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1974 for Duffy and the Devil - is a name with which I am familiar, until Betsy Hearne mentioned it in her article Nobody Knows..., printed in the September/October 2009 issue of the Horn Book Magazine, devoted to the theme of "Trouble." In it, she compares the book to another depiction of an African-American heaven, Julius Lester's What a Truly Cool World , implying (the mention is very brief) that the chief trouble with Zemach's book, and the real source of the controversy, is that she is not African-American herself. Michelle H. Martin, in Build Me a Cabin in the Corner of Glory Land: Depictions of Heaven in African-American Children's Picture Books (a chapter in her book-length study, Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children's Picture Books, 1845-2002 , published in 2004) argues that Zemach also suffered from poor timing: that her book, while flawed, just came out at the wrong time, and, had its publication followed other titles, like Bubber Goes to Heaven , it would not have stirred up such controversy. Naturally, with all this analysis and background information, I was quite keen to obtain a copy of Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven, and see what I thought of it myself. Thankfully, my own library system didn't join the boycott, so I was able to borrow a copy! I have to confess: I have trouble seeing the overt racism here (unconscious racism, such as the uniform skin-tone of the characters, as mentioned in Martin, perhaps), and kept thinking, as I read through: this is what all the fuss was about?!? Is it racist to depict African-Americans enjoying music, or having a barbecue? Don't tell any of my childhood friends, whose families hailed from places like North Carolina, and southward - they'd probably laugh in your face. Is it derogatory and demeaning, as Nancy L. Arnez, the author of the editorial in The Crisis claimed, that the urban landscape from which Jake and Honeybunch ascend to heaven is so "negatively" portrayed? I don't know... did Arnez happen to notice that the town was named "Hard Times?" As always, when unsure of my own response, and worried that I might be missing something, I showed this book to someone whose opinion I trust, giving no background information, and solicited her view of it. She read it, thought about it, and responded that she liked how God had been depicted. But did you notice anything else about the book?, I wanted to know. What would you say if I told you that some people had described it as racist? I asked. She hesitated... and then replied that she supposed she could see something in that. Oho! I thought... and so? "Well, heaven is all black. That can't be right, can it? Haha! Somehow, I don't think that's what the critics has in mind... In the end, I found Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven fairly benign: a book that, while it might have been flawed, was hardly the harmful or hurtful threat that it was made out to be, some twenty-eight years ago. I didn't love it (somehow, Zemach's style didn't appeal to me, not for ethical reasons, but for aesthetic ones), but I didn't loathe it either. Of course, I'm not African-American myself, and I do understand that emotional responses can vary, depending upon personal experience. I am also fully aware that no work of literature exists in a vacuum, but is read in the larger context of what is going on in the society at large. That is a reality that is highlighted by the very different responses of critics at the time, and scholars like Martin, looking back from a distance. It is also a reality that confirms my growing belief that "humane censorship" - however legitimate its aims - is probably not a good idea...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Kelly

    The author "drew freely" from black folklore for this story, but I also got a strong feeling of a traditional american folklore, as well. I could easily see the characters replaced with a standard "country hick" character without any change in tone. With that in mind, the fact that the author still chose to use black people as the population of this town and of heaven and as God, made for a very nice read. It seemed like a purposeful *in*clusion, yet not at all an *ex*clusion of anyone else. It a The author "drew freely" from black folklore for this story, but I also got a strong feeling of a traditional american folklore, as well. I could easily see the characters replaced with a standard "country hick" character without any change in tone. With that in mind, the fact that the author still chose to use black people as the population of this town and of heaven and as God, made for a very nice read. It seemed like a purposeful *in*clusion, yet not at all an *ex*clusion of anyone else. It all flowed very nicely and was beautiful to read. The normalization of non-whites is necessary for race-relations to improve, and this book from the early 80s is one facet of normalization. There is no dialect, no images that are indicatively and or stereotypically black. There is no buffoonery, although Jake is still a comedic character. I liked it very much, and would recommend it to ANY family, regardless of ethnicity, with children who like comedic, slightly silly characters that somehow end up doing the right thing in the end.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Heather Willoughby

    The book starts out morbid. There are dark illustrations, a mean mule, and Jake even get kicked out of Heaven. I don't like the illustrations. The people are realistic while the surroundings are not. The story does get better when Jake and Honeybunch are given a second chance, but the story did not seem like a happy one. With all the reference to Heaven and God I don't know if it would be allowed to be read in school. The book starts out morbid. There are dark illustrations, a mean mule, and Jake even get kicked out of Heaven. I don't like the illustrations. The people are realistic while the surroundings are not. The story does get better when Jake and Honeybunch are given a second chance, but the story did not seem like a happy one. With all the reference to Heaven and God I don't know if it would be allowed to be read in school.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Read this after it was mentioned in a Horn Book article addressing the controversy surrounding A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. I thought the illustrations were lovely. Not sure how I'd feel about it if I felt like my culture was stereotyped at every turn, but my guess is that I wouldn't be thrilled. Read this after it was mentioned in a Horn Book article addressing the controversy surrounding A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. I thought the illustrations were lovely. Not sure how I'd feel about it if I felt like my culture was stereotyped at every turn, but my guess is that I wouldn't be thrilled.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Neal

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jj

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Mohr

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sonia Allison

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy Lan

  12. 5 out of 5

    Zindzi

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen Hohmeyer

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dean Duncan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Molly

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  18. 4 out of 5

    Haley Frailey

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Keioancutie12

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nadj Stokes

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mehta

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kenya Williams

  24. 4 out of 5

    Igraine

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lady Bill

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim R

  27. 4 out of 5

    Linda

  28. 4 out of 5

    Claire

  29. 5 out of 5

    Holly

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Odland

  31. 4 out of 5

    BookDB

  32. 4 out of 5

    Audrey Carter

  33. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  34. 4 out of 5

    Lori Laster

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